Dr. Laura C. Klein, assistant professor of biobehavioral health who led the study, says, "Although other researchers have shown that both men and women eat more during stressful periods, this is the first study to show that eating is affected in some individuals after a stress is stopped.
"In daily life, people often rise to the occasion to deal with stress," she adds. "The real window of vulnerability may be after the stress is over. For example, women exposed to a week of frustrating job stress could be especially vulnerable to overeating on the weekends."
The researchers' results are in the current issue of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology in a paper, "Gender Differences in Biobehavioral Aftereffects of Stress on Eating, Frustration, and Cardiovascular Responses." The authors are Klein, Dr. Karen S. Quigley, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and Department of Veteran's Affairs, Dr. Martha M. Faraday, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and Dr. Neil E. Grunberg, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.
In the experiments, 29 men and 34 women, ages 18 to 45, who thought they were in a study of the effects of noise on performance, were divided into three groups and asked to solve math and geometry problems shown to them on slides. They were only allowed to view each slide for ten seconds before the next slide appeared.
In the first group, while the participant was trying to solve the problems, a loudspeaker placed near his or her chair emitted a noise about as loud as a jackhammer at unpredictable intervals. The participants were shown a button on the side of the chair to turn the noise off but none did.